As the Cascade Express — a publicly subsidized commuter bus between Saranac Lake and Elizabethtown — gets ready to hit the road for the first time on Oct. 3, we have a serious problem with the shuttle’s schedule, which overwhelmingly favors public servants rather than the public.
The launch of a new bus route in Essex County makes us take a harder look at public transportation. After all, during this time of economic distress, adding government services is certainly not the norm. And as Gov. Cuomo’s 2 percent tax cap looms over the 2012 budget process, many cuts will be on the way.
Several counties throughout the region now have public transportation networks. They help seniors make trips to shopping centers, government offices and doctors’ appointments. They help commuters get to work in distant villages. They give physically challenged riders more independence.
We understand that demand for bus routes varies, and we hope government officials are paying close attention to the numbers to make sure taxpayer money is not being wasted. Shuttles with strong ridership should stay in operation, while those with low ridership should be phased out.
Now Essex County Transportation will have six bus routes. We have no problem with creating new public bus routes, as long as there is sufficient demand from the general public and there is a way to pay for it.
The Cascade Express certainly has funding. Essex County was successful in getting a federal Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program grant to help pay for it.
And there is definitely demand, according to Essex County Transportation Coordinator Nancy Dougal. She’s said there were numerous requests for a bus route between Lake Placid and Elizabethtown from county workers and people who use county services.
Helping county workers with a taxpayer-funded bus is fine, as long as the schedule is designed to accommodate those in the private sector as well. Sadly, this is where the Cascade Express falls short.
While she was drafting the schedule, Dougal said she was trying to accommodate people who work a 7-to-3 shift in Lake Placid and Ray Brook and an 8-to-4 shift in Elizabethtown. Her hope, she said, was to give Elizabethtown residents an opportunity to commute to state jobs in Ray Brook and Tri-Lakes residents a chance to commute to county jobs in Elizabethtown.
The Cascade Express schedule does just that. Unfortunately, it excludes anyone in the private sector who works a full-time job in those locations.
While the state government defines a full-time shift as 8.0 hours (7.5 hours plus a 30-minute lunch break), the private sector defines a full-time shift as 8.5 hours (8.0 hours plus a 30-minute lunch break).
Therefore, someone traveling from Lake Placid to Elizabethtown on the Cascade Express can get off the bus at Stewart’s at 7:45 a.m. but has to be back on the bus at Stewart’s by 4:10 p.m. in order to get home. Workers in private industry starting at 8 a.m. have to be on the clock until 4:30 p.m. to complete their 8-hour day. They can’t use the Cascade Express with its current schedule.
This bus schedule should be modified to fit shifts for workers in the private sector. Otherwise, the Cascade Express is simply a taxpayer-funded shuttle bus for government workers.
The JARC program — which provided funding for this bus — was established “to improve access to transportation services to employment and employment related activities for welfare recipients and eligible low-income individuals.” It was not established to get county and state workers to their offices.
5:45 a.m. Elizabethtown, Stewart’s
6:00 a.m. Keene, Park & Ride
6:28 a.m. Ray Brook
6:35 a.m. Saranac Lake, NCCC
7:05 a.m. Lake Placid, Stewart’s
7:10 a.m. Lake Placid, ski jumps
7:30 a.m. Keene, Park & Ride
7:45 a.m. Elizabethtown, Stewart’s
2:50 p.m. Saranac Lake, NCCC
3:05 p.m. Ray Brook
3:20 p.m. Lake Placid, ski jumps
3:40 p.m. Keene, Park & Ride
4:10 p.m. Elizabethtown, Stewart’s
4:25 p.m. Keene, Park & Ride
4:45 p.m. Lake Placid, ski jumps
4:50 p.m. Lake Placid, Stewart’s